Thinking about selling some Zeiss ZFs...

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by michael_r, Jun 20, 2011.

  1. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    I'm posting this here as it is not a classified ad (well, yet at least) but looking for opinions/thoughts.

    Thinking they would be far better than the my AF-D Nikkor 35mm/2D, AF-D Nikkor 24mm/2.8D and AF-D Nikkor 50mm/1.4, I bought the Zeiss 25mm, 50mm 1.4 and 35mm 2.0. These are ZFs, not ZF.2, which makes no optical difference. Anyhow aside from being reportedly sharper in the center (based on test reports, not my own data), and having slightly better flare control (T* is still the best), performance is not what I had hoped for.

    I only really shoot at relatively small apertures, so better wide open performance does not matter to me. I want sharpness across the frame at middle apertures and smaller, and in this respect the Zeiss lenses do not appear to be anything spectacular. They really seem to be optimized at the center - perhaps Zeiss assumes most people will use them on DX sensors.

    Distortion correction is disappointing. The 50mm 1.4 ZF has virtually the same, unimpressive amount of barrel distortion as the AF-D 50mm 1.4 Nikkor, and the 35mm 2.0 ZF has more barrel distortion than the AF-D 35mm Nikkor. While the 25mm ZF has less a little less distortion than the AF-D 24mm Nikkor, it is still not as well corrected as it should be in my opinion.

    Of course the build quality of the ZF lenses is excellent and they are a joy to hold and use, but I want my dollars going to optics first, beauty second.

    The Other ZF I own is the 21mm Distagon. This one is another story. Excellent, and better than anything else I could get in that focal length for an SLR.

    I am quite disappointed in how the manufacturers (at least Nikon and Zeiss) are designing their premium and/or prime lenses these days, seemingly putting all their attention into "bokeh" and speed (and for very high prices I might add). I am concerned with neither, and I'm being left out in the cold. I can't even get a damn aperture ring on Nikon's new lenses $2,000 plus.
     
  2. domaz

    domaz Member

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    Why not try some vintage glass? You can get Manual Focus adapters for nothing these days on Ebay. Get a Nikon->M42 adapter and a 50mm Pentax SMC Takumar 1.4 (Screw mount). My bet is it will be competitive with the Zeiss in every way (and it has an aperture ring). Much cheaper too.
     
  3. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    It's not too tough to get a lens that works well at middle apertures. Including vintage glass will get your aperture ring and other things.

    Wide open and big apertures is where the lenses can easily differentiate. I like the bokeh and speed options on the market now. I've got the Nikkor 50/1.8d, 50/1.4d, Voigtlander 40/2 SLII (which is a really nice manual/chipped lens), and Nikon 105/2dc for fast Nikon primes.

    I like to go on flickr and see how lenses render certain scenes. When I bought my 40/sl2 I also check the zeiss options, and I didnt like the bokeh/ out of focus backgrounds were rendered with the Zeiss stuff. Creamy backgrounds is sort of what I like about using tessars on MF and LF gear and it's not just because of thinner DOF.
     
  4. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    Decent lenses of around "normal" focal length should all be pretty sharp at around f/8.0, especially in the center.

    What makes the difference between a decent and great lens is:
    1) How it behaves at full aperture
    2) How it behaves in the corners (esp. at wider apertures)
    3) How vignetting and distortion are handled.
    4) How it deals with flare.
    5) More esoteric things like 3-d effects, bokeh, rendering and so on...

    I've used older (non-AF) versions of most of the lenses you've mentionrd and have a definite preference for the Zeiss lenses.
    YMMV and if you can find no real or practical difference, then going for the less expensive option is wholly justified.
     
  5. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    You should try cheaper lenses. A 50/1.4 is the result, just like any piece of optics, of several compromises and is subject to cost constraints. One normally buys a 50/1.4 because he somehow needs the extreme aperture (either as an aid to focusing with an SLR, or to take pictures).

    My bet is that at f/8 a humble 50/2 (and 35/2.8, 28/3.5 etc.) would perform better than an 50/1.4 for most makers. That's because in order to reach bigger apertures manufacturers have to "give up" somewhere on some quality parameters, even when they accept higher manufacturing costs.

    Just to make an example, suppose a simpler scheme can be extremely well corrected for distortion, but suffers from vignetting. That's acceptable for an f/2, but would be unacceptable for an f/1.4 where that optical scheme would produce too much vignetting. So the producer opts for a different scheme, which has less vignetting but introduces other problems (more lenses, flare, chromatic aberration, whatever).

    A "fast" lens is not a "normal" lens with the faster apertures "added". It's a lens which had to be designed anew, to solve a new set of constraints.

    The juice is that a 50/1.4 is typically a different animal than let's say a 50/2, a different project, and it is quite likely that the cheaper lens, being easier to manufacture, is not just cheaper but also overall better at its better apertures.

    (This could be confirmed by some MTF comparative tests that were carried on many years ago by Tutti Fotografi / Progresso Fotografico and which I don't have any more).

    PS If distortion is very important for your work, for instance for architectural work, I would suggest experimenting with enlarger lenses and bellows lenses. Those are optimized for shorter distances (that's not good for architecture) but can sport an extreme degree of correction for distortion as far as I know.
     
  6. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    The compromises are always on the characteristics I favor unfortunately. It seems to me many of these new premium "professional" lenses are actually just expensive toys for non-professionals with a lot of money to burn. I'm continuously disappointed by all the "improvements".
     
  7. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    I wonder if you are experiencing some kind of defect.... I say this because I had a heck of issues with Nikon's 50mm 1.8D lens. I went through 3 or 4 and kept the best. These were all factory fresh new units. Even then, it was awfully soft at wide open. So I sent it back for "repair". Nikon replaced the front element and adjusted auto-focus. It came back very VERY sharp. I also had similar experience with a "pro grade" Tokina zoom. Again, it was very soft at long end of the zoom at wide open. Sent it back and came back as good as high-end Nikons. My Nikon pro-grade zooms are very sharp wide open. No adjustments or repairs were necessary.
     
  8. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Not defects, just characteristics. My findings seem consistent with most of the test results I read. I'm not just talking about lenses I own, but also lenses I would otherwise like to own. For example, the new Nikkor AFS 35mm 1.4. The old 35mm AF-D f2 is not the best lens ever, so hey maybe this is going to be the lens to have. One thing's for sure, it's hugely expensive. Well, it's a stop faster. Useless to me. It's a lot sharper and better corrected wide open. Useless to me. It has more barrel distortion than the lowly AF-D f2. Game over. $2000 later I've gained basically nothing, and lost an aperture ring. Bravo Nikon!

    I guess they design these things only for digital where people can correct simple/symmetric distortion and color fringing with software. All well and good, but then what exactly justifies these extremely expensive lenses if in the end the camera chip or photoshop corrects for residual optical aberations? Seems like a big rip off going on here.
     
  9. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Maybe you are on to something there....

    I have a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G. Nikon's very best mid range zoom. At 24mm there is this HUGE distortion that I can readily see. Many tests also say there is this big chromatic abrasions. (which I have not noticed) It's an incredibly sharp lens. I bet you are right. Anything that can be software corrected becomes second priority and things that can't be corrected moves up to the top. Make sense to me. That's where their money is coming from these days.
     
  10. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Yup... my typing accent strikes again. I meant "chromatic aberrations". :laugh::laugh::laugh:
     
  11. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    I agree. It's just a little frustrating. I mean, read test reports on alot of these new lenses and the same comments keep cropping up. Things like:

    "...has moderate barrel distortion, but it is symmetric, simple barrel distortion so it can be easily corrected with software" (ie so we'll just forget about it and give this lens an A)

    "...has a higher level of chromatic aberration than we'd expect, which increases as you stop down, but the Nikon D3x corrects for this" (ie so we'll just forget about it and give this lens an A)

    "...very sharp in the center, even wide open, but even with stopping down it seems to be optimized for center sharpness at the expense of edge and corner sharpness, perhaps recognizing the fact most users will end up using the lens on cameras with DX sized sensors" (ie so we'll just forget about that too and give this supposed "full frame" lens an A)

    And I'm not talking exclusively about exotic focal lengths or zooms. I'm talking about things as bread-and-butter as 35mm and 50mm primes.

    And to offset the optical negatives and justify the excellent rating and ridiculously high price, you get:

    -Perfectly rounded aperture blades, and lots of them
    -"Beautiful bokeh"

    Wow sign me up right away! [sarcasm]
     
  12. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Maybe adding some chromatic abrasion would decrease distortion! :D
     
  13. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    You cannot really beat the 28mm f/2.8 AI-S and 50mm f/1.8 AI. Two of the best lenses ever made, in terms of both optics and build quality, and you can get both of them (both of them, not each of them) for under 1/2 the price of your 50mm Zeiss lens. The 24mm f/2.8 AI and AI-S are also great. With this outstanding used Nikkor glass sitting around at bargain prices, I don't see how Zeiss can even make it worth their while to produce the ZF lenses! They are fine lenses, but oh so pricey...and aren't they made by Cosina anyhow?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 21, 2011
  14. jp498

    jp498 Member

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    With DSLRs, it's desirable to go shooting with no flash in super dark settings, and between high ISO settings and bright lenses, it's easy to do and gets photos that were impossible before.

    The ability to stop action with good shutter speeds is apparently more important than some minor lens shortcomings that affect pixel peeping testers, which are correctable in the camera or computer.

    I'm sure it's capable of beautiful photos (as is the $100 18-55 afs kit zoom). The round aperture and beautiful bokeh are things that lens manufacturers can differentiate their offerings with that matter more than sharpness tests. (Digital folks will adjust sharpness to suit their needs in software). If you are shooting in low light you probably have bright point souces of light and how they are rendered is important. I can see photos shot in existing light and say, that's a canon lens because of the number of aperture blades in the highlights or flare.

    The whole silent focus thing is getting some favor by people shooting video who don't want to hear the lens focusing like the mechanized focus on the AF-D.

    I won't get one though. Too expensive, no aperture ring, doesn't do anything special I need.
     
  15. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    The fact they're made by Cosina doesn't really bother me. If they were made in Germany they'd be the same lenses but cost twice the already high prices. Although I guess on some snobby level I'd still prefer to know my Zeiss lenses were made of German glass (I think Zeiss might even own Schott at this point but I might be wrong) like the older Contax lenses, and the way we traditionally think about Zeiss lenses.

    Regarding it being worth their while, I guess there are just alot of people like me out there who have been a little disappointed in some of their Nikkor primes and get excited about the prospect of putting a Zeiss lens on a Nikon body. That was initially how it started for me. I was never happy with Nikon 24mm lenses, so I thought Zeiss would be my savior with the 25mm ZF. Nope. In fact that is the least imrpessive one in the ZF line.

    The ZF I would recommend to anyone who can afford it is the 21mm as I said earlier in the thread. It is an excellent lens, and that has always been another relatively weak focal length for both Nikon and Canon. I am very pleased with it. It's not quite as good as the rangefinder lenses, but I guess it would be exceedingly expensive to make a distortionless retrofocus wide angle lens.
     
  16. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Really? I mean, who's stopping action in low light with a 24mm lens?
     
  17. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Well.... you CAN when you got ISO 12800.... With super sensitive CMOS sensor and low noise amplifier, coupled with majorly huge flux capacitors, you can do things that were impossible just few years ago.
     
  18. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    I would say that the CV 20mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar is the best new SLR lens in that area of FLs. They are not necessarily inexpensive themselves, though.

    My "dream kit," if talking about spending the money for brand new lenses, would be the CV 20, 40, and 58 lenses for Nikon cameras. Add a brand new Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AI-S and you have pretty much the best lenses money can buy for what most 35mm and digital shooters shoot.

    You will be hard pressed to find a 50mm lens that performs better than the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AI. And at the price, I would say that there is no better all-around 50mm lens, performance-wise.

    I'm honestly surprised that the Nikkor wides disappointed you. Especially if you tried the 28mm f/2.8 AI-S. What do you shoot, and what bothered you in the pix?

    Even on digital, which is hard on lenses compared to film, the old Nikkor fixed-length lenses are sharp as can be seen in most real world situations. And the 28mm 2.8 and AI-S and 50mm in particular are about as distortion free as you can get in a standard (non-macro) photographic lens (short of using copy lenses on large format cameras).

    There are always compromises when shooting fast lenses. You gain lens speed at the expense of distortion, coma, and corner sharpness. And when there are not compromises when wide open (i.e. the Noct-Nikkor 58mm or the AF 28mm f/1.4), you get compromises in performance, or at the very most no gains over the slower models, when not wide open, and you pay through the nose. (Got a spare 4 or 5 thousand dollars for those two lenses?)

    I guess my point is that for affordable prices, there will always be a compromise somewhere.
     
  19. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    I sure do! Lots of people shoot shoot moving things in low light. I use a 28mm f/2.0 for shooting live music and street photos all the time. They can be especially helpful in stopping action in low light, since you can use slower shutter speeds to freeze things, due to less magnification.

    And, I should clarify. I didn't really mean to say that the CV 20mm 3.5 was "better" than the Zeiss 21mm f/4. Just that for most of what most people shoot, it is probably the best performance for the dollar spent in a brand new 20/21mm SLR lens, making it the best choice for most manual focus shooters who have the money to spend. It is very respectable, even if a bit overpriced. The way I look at it, the sharpness of a lens is not usually the limiting factor in the sharpness of someone's prints; technique is. And the work that most people do with 35mm (8x10 or smaller prints shot at moderate apertures) does not consistently push a lens to it's optical limits anyhow. So splitting hairs about lens performance can only do so much good for most shooters. I can only split hairs with 35mm equipment for so long before I just say "screw it" and pick up my 645 for bigger, sharper prints.
     
  20. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Agreed. The specific focal lengths that have always bothered me are 21 (or 20), 24 and 35. 24 and 35 bother me more than 21 only because I use 21 less of the time. I'm talking here of the AF-D lenses. The problem is not necessarily sharpness, since I'm usually stopped down to f8 or smaller for lots of depth of field, so once you get to f16, even a lens that was outstanding at 5.6 is subject to noticeable diffraction anyway. But depending on the print a softening toward the edges/corners (sometimes more at the edges than the corners!) is sometimes visible at middle apertures (actually it is sometimes even more pronounced in the Zeiss ZFs because the center is so bitingly sharp and they are highly center weighted in optimization). Flare control is not the best on the older Nikkors, and some of the lenses, like the 24mm have an annoying amount of field curvature. But most bothersome is distortion, even with the 35mm lenses. At this point in optical history (and for $2000 in the case of the new Nikkors), a 35mm lens should have negligeable distortion. A 24mm prime should be pretty square too, and I find it ridiculous that the new $2,200 Nikkor 24mm prime has significantly more distortion than either the AFS-G 14-24mm or the AFS-G 16-35mm zooms at 24mm.
     
  21. tony lockerbie

    tony lockerbie Subscriber

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    I don't know, I kind of like chromatic abrasions...you would need a really sharp lens for that!